Saturday, August 27, 2016

Review: Malice

     It is, admittedly, somewhat hard to continue being the stereotypical bookworm if you are not used to the electronic book format. And, even then, for many, there is this sensual pleasure lost of the touch and feel of a book, the smell of its pages that the cold and convenient elegance of e-reading cannot provide. However, much more active than that is the force of distraction that haunts the very corridors which provide you access to books online or on an app. Still, this is the stance of a few and I, for one, am plunging, at least now and then, into the world of reading off an app. For the moment it's the Kindle App. But I've yet to sustain myself on that - there are problems of Net connectivity or access, in the main.

Thus, it has become a travel ritual for us to carry books. For this trip I carried Higashino Keigo’s Malice and Foreign Correspondent: Fifty Years Of Reporting South Asia.

     Malice is my third book by Keigo Higashino. My first, Journey Under The Midnight Sun, remains my favourite. I know I’ve given in to my hasty reading style which causes me to skip to the end and then work my way up and down a book after I’ve been good for a few pages or chapters. But this is one book I sincerely hope to re-read. Everything is transparent in his writing, on the one hand, and that is why his masterly sleights of hand and the challenges he sets himself in terms of being a writer become so magnetic. His books are page turners, every one of them so far.

    My second Higashino has cult status and it has remained unrivalled in some portrayals, some things it stirs within that are both liberating and tormenting: The Devotion Of Suspect X. 

     During my week in Kochi I had the chance to chat with a trio of undergrads from English Literature. In particular, I asked if they’d seen Drishyam, a local film reportedly based on this book. Apparently they had but, they reported, their fathers had not taken kindly to the movie, accusing it of glorifying crime. This, at least, proved to me the usual massive mess up that marks the morphing of a novel to the screen. Nonetheless, here is the trailer of the Malayalam version without subtitles

and here is the teaser of the Hindi version with English subtitles

However, there’s something about his writing that is irresistible to filmmakers and so you have Korean and Japanese drama and film versions of his novels. I’ve not liked too many so far.

The Koreans have delighted in remaking his works and here's a taste of one

And, of course, since Higashino is Japanese it is only fair to introduce you of a sample. This one was not too bad at all

I’ve not been able to find out if there’s been a drama or film version of Malice and would be grateful if anyone knows of any such.

As with his other books, the meat of the matter in Malice only surfaces at the very bitter end. And yet everything is laid out neatly for you, dear reader, from the word go.

He plays extensively here with the concept of multiple memories of one and the same thing; how a single person can be viewed so very diversely, on the one hand, and how, on the other, we see only what we are made to see. Bullying, a major issue in many Japanese films and dramas, emerges as a significant thread though not really the bone of contention, perhaps.

While there is no physicist or mathematician in Malice, there is indubitably in it the very thing most characteristic of a Higashino or, indeed, of any writer worth his salt: there is that in it which informs. You will leave such a book with some knowledge, something is learned most painlessly and therein lies the art of the writer and her/his worth. This is a book which also explores the world of writing as it is lived, practiced and perceived today.

The cover picture aptly captures the elegance of this crime story, using the austere cherry blossom twig to represent a certain scene from its pages. I fully endorse this as a splendid piece of murder mystery to read on a journey.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Hard To Be Indifferent to 'Lovers in the Age of Indifference'

Xiaolu Guo’s Lovers in the Age of Indifference is like a set of picture postcards. Mostly, short pieces. Most or all of the pieces could leave the unprepared or traditional reader at sea as they do not fall easily into the category of story. There is, often, no particular crisis nor any spectacular resolution. Look at it either as a series of sketches or as superb samples of the author’s talent with various genres.

The Mountain Keeper, the first story in this collection, is narrated in elegant strokes. It is almost like reading a typical Chinese painting.

Winter Worm Summer Weed is another little portrait. This one brings life to and colours an arid region and arid lives with a bold and refreshing indifference.

Beijing's Slowest Elevator toys with the life of a woman who works at a karaoke bar. She could be a prostitute of sorts but, to us, she emerges as one of the teeming masses of China’s capital city. A longer creation, this story is divided into ten parts and each can stand on its own.

Lovers In The Age Of Indifference is bizarre and tender and faintly and deliciously creepy. I wonder if the author plans to expand on some of these pieces.

Junk Mail has left me scratching my head. Perhaps I’ve skimmed through too fast? Is this the gift of fame, that, once published, the publisher will accept all your scrawls? But that is unworthy of me. I also wonder how many have woven a tale out of the treasure trove we call “spam”.

Then The Game Begins returns us to lovers. Mah Jong forming the centrepiece, this sketch is delicately salacious and redolent with artful indifference.

Stateless, also, I confess, left me clueless. How is the protagonist? White or yellow or black or brown? Who is the girl? What is the story? It’s highly titillating and leaves you high and dry. I would have to read more of Xiaolu to understand this art of being such a tease!

An Internet Baby is hilariously tragic. It will pander to the preconceptions we are trained to have about China. It will feed and satiate that perception, while, I’m sure, the author smirks and snickers behind the curtains, content with our complacency.

The Dead Can Dance Heartbreak is a theme of several pieces in this collection and this one is a gem. Unforgivingly blunt, it captures the agony of rejection. It’s bound to strike a chord with habitual lovers. There is nothing quite as bleak as the end of love.

Beijing Morning Star The chief editor of a daily re-works a few pieces. Tongue very much in cheek, Xiaolu Guo crafts a universal piece. I dare anyone anywhere in the world to say “This is typical of China”!

Not all the stories adhere to the format of sketches. Into The World can earn anyone’s approval as a story. And what a story! Just as I appreciate Japanese authors all the more for being addicted to Japanese dramas, I do feel that I’m able to relish Xiaolu Guo so much the more thanks to having watched quite a few Chinese films in the past. I can’t think of any other people with such a predilection for irreverence. Confucianism and communism both conspired to create this outrageous brand of extreme and slapstick reality. Let me disabuse you, though: it’s an artful piece and very much in a traditional Chinese story mode.

Address Unknown Another in the heartbreak genre, this one reminds me of Jacques Prévert’s cruel Déjeuner du Matin. Those who have loved and lost have surely undergone this phase. There is, probably, nothing worse than the silence of a partner. The silence of death. The death of love.

A series of text messages, The Third Tree also uses the habit of the lover who cannot accept rejection, who still hopes into the deathly silence, who persists. It’s yet another instance where the author plays with formats. Now why can’t I try that! Why didn’t I think of it first!

Another libidinous story, Anywhere I Lay My Head, indulges in a voyeuristic foray, tracing a day in the life of a woman as she leaves her partner for a tryst with an ex-lover. Her duplicity, like a cruel crust, remains unnoticed. Framed within mundane happenings, this faithlessness becomes more poignant than heartbreak.

Letters To A City Of Illusion And Hope is composed, as you’ve rightly guessed, of a few letters between partners. It’s left me wanting to read or, at least, read about, Griffin and Sabine. And it has revealed how widely read Xiaolu Guo surely is.

Today I Decide To Die One way we react to a breakup is suicide. This is, again, a tale of rejection, set amidst descriptive chatter.

I confess that I am yet to broach Flower Of Solitude. At a glance, I can tell that it is carved in the mould of Chinese legends and myths. I’m saving it for tonight.

This is not for the unadventurous nor the untrained, perhaps. Short stories are regarded as chocolate boxes, a whole made up of nibbles. Lovers in the Age of Indifference, though formed of bites, cold shoulders such an approach.

An absolute must for all wannabe writers. And everyone else!

I leave you with a video of Xiaolu Guo reading some poetry:

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Review: How to Make a Fortune on the Internet: A Guide for Anyone Who Wants to Create a Massive - And Passive - Income for Life

How to Make a Fortune on the Internet: A Guide for Anyone Who Wants to Create a Massive - And Passive - Income for Life
Ajay Ahuja's guide is a neat collation of pertinent information - a "how to" but also a kind of self-advertisement. Well, almost everyone is doing something like that these days! This manual, however, is quite a handy set of tips, especially for those who are new to the Net or not quick to capture and use online information.

Obviously, though not too much in your face, this book is designed to make you approach the author for the real thing. And, indeed, it's a good strategy to give away almost everything when you're a specialist or a professional. Very simply, most of us cannot approach information with the intention to put it to use. Perhaps it's the way the education system messes with us. Nevertheless, even with a plethora of how-tos, such as we find online nowadays, it's hard for a body to figure out how to translate a guide or tips into action. We need someone to hold our hand through the process.

Another point that emerges about the book is Mr. Ahuja's discussion of the use of ads. Of late, we find that, on the one hand, we, the people, have taken to using the like of Adblock to improve our experiences online. The world of advertising, like much else today, is undergoing a sea-change. I wonder if Mr. Ahuja has woken up to this.

All in all, How to Make a Fortune on the Internet: A Guide for Anyone Who Wants to Create a Massive - and Passive - Income for Life is not costly and I'm sure it would be a good investment for many an entrepreneur, for startups and even for individuals interested in taking control of their financial lives.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Mankell's The Shadow Girls - How To Repel Potential Refugees

The Shadow Girls
I've no idea why I picked up another Mankell. And another non-Wallander at that! Says
In 1989 Henning Mankell returned to Sweden after an extended period in Africa. Upon his return in Sweden, Henning Mankell was astounded by the xenophobia he seemed to have started to grow in Swedish society and decided to write about it. Since racism, according to Mankell, is a crime he needed a police officer. After a few searches through the local phone book Mankell had found his inspector. Kurt Wallander was born.
Mind you, I've yet to get my hands on a Wallander as the series has been worthy of TV and movie versions.

I can't say I didn't enjoy The Shadow Girls as there is a kind of humour in the writing. Scandinavian humour?

In any case the intentional humour is offered after about a chapter or so. Thus, what you first encounter can be a bit distasteful if you're a person of colour and one living in a land very far from the Nordic regions and one where your skin colour is quite the usual thing to have. So I'm a bit baffled about Mankell's desire to address racism. This is my second Mankell and, so far, though he does tend to be sympathetic towards his coloured characters, it's more to the tune of

"Bad things were done to you by peoples of my colour! But what a very peculiar person you are! What terrible evil lurks in you!"
Mankell's depiction of a young African girl, a refugee, makes for inadvertent humour to me. What trouble he must have taken to "research" for that!

It's as though he cannot find criminals or wretched characters who are not persons of colour! And his guilt so torments him that, even when he tries to portray a girl from Africa as a victim with whom we must sympathise, he fails. 

I confess that I skipped and skimmed merrily through the book for it had nothing to hold my attention apart from the refreshing humour of some conversations between Scandinavians.

Such books ought to be distributed for free to all potential refugees and, lest they can't read or can't read the language of publication, perhaps drones should drone out the novel to such peoples. I'm pretty sure it will cure all those Africans and others who seem to be so eager to rush to Europe, etc. for refuge of this misapprehension.

I, for one, will be most loathe to visit Mankell land, post reading his books.

Yet, I'm sure that The Shadow Girls will find appreciative readers there and in neighbouring countries and in my own land as well as in Africa and all those lands from whence pour those nameless beings "The Refugees". Because the news, too, is mostly written by the Mankell's of this world...